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9:01AM

Gruden takes a stand for missing Antonio Brown

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Yes, Antonio Brown was listed as a starting wide receiver on the lineup card for the Raiders' opening preseason game Saturday night. No, he didn’t start. He didn’t play. He wasn’t even at the Coliseum.   

But these are the Raiders, for one last bittersweet season the Oakland Raiders, so issues and controversy never are far away — although when the team moves next season to Las Vegas, it will be plenty far away.

Yet that’s the future. Maybe so is Brown, the guy who wanted to be free of the Pittsburgh Steelers and came in trade during the off-season to the Raiders.

He brings a great ability to catch touchdown passes and, with his style (injuring his feet in a cryogenic chamber) and stubbornness (refusing to use the new helmet ordered by the NFL), a special independence.

After the Raiders' 14-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams in a quite normal first game of any season, especially one that doesn’t count except for the players trying to make the team, second-year coach Jon Gruden took a stand for Brown — hardly a surprise because he was very much in favor of the move to acquire him.

“I support this guy,” Gruden said of Brown. “I don’t care what anybody thinks. The foot injury wasn’t his fault.”

The story is Brown went to Europe for cryogenic treatment, in which a part of the body is subjected to temperatures far below zero for a short amount of time. But Brown wore flip-flops on his feet instead of shoes and incurred frostbite.

“It was a total accident,” Gruden explained. “A serious injury. People are smirking at it. He’s hurt. He hasn’t done anything wrong. And the helmet thing is a personal matter.”

Brown, 31, has worn the same type of helmet for 10 years and reportedly wants to continue, even threatening to quit instead of changing to a newer model endorsed by the league.

He had a two-hour conference call with an independent arbitrator Friday to point out why, according to ESPN, he should be allowed to keep the original helmet. Brown said the new helmet restricted his vision, and according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, he has filed a grievance with the league.

“It’s a personal matter,” said Gruden. “He has a strong feeling what he should wear on his head, and we support him. We understand the league’s position as well, so we’re in a tough spot.

“We hope he’ll be back here soon, because he’s exciting to be around. He’s one of the premier competitors I’ve ever been around.”

Before Gruden returned to coach in 2018, he was the analyst on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, studying players from every team.   

“He loves to play so much,” Gruden said, exaggerating a trifle, “he’d play with no helmet. Whatever his decision, we’ll stand by it. We have confidence he’s going to be a huge factor for the Raiders in years to come.”                                                    

The factors for either team Saturday, in what amounted to an exhibition game, were not those that would be apparent in September, when the regular season gets underway. Neither Jared Goff, who led the Rams to the Super Bowl, or the Raiders’ Derek Carr played a single down at quarterback.

Mike Glennon, who started, and Nathan Peterman were the Raiders' quarterbacks, Glennon completing 17 of 25 for 200 yards and Peterman 9 of 12 for 66 yards and a touchdown. Peterman also had Oakland’s longest run when he scrambled for 50 yards.

“I though both quarterbacks in their opening possessions had beautiful touchdown drives,” said Gruden. ‘That’s what we want. We want quarterbacks to take control of the game and get us on schedule. You take the opening drive 80 yards and score.

“Credit to both those guys. Mike had two interceptions. The one in the red zone can’t happen. He got fooled on the other one. I thought Glennon did some good things in the pocket. Nathan showed his athleticism. He can run. As he continues to gain command, he’s going to be interesting to watch.”

So, presumably, will Antonio Brown, if he ever gets on the field.

8:32PM

Chiefs made plays when needed; Raiders made mistakes

OAKLAND, Calif.—Never mind the glass is half-full optimism, the ifs and the might-haves. The Oakland Raiders are not a very good football team. And that’s the reason they couldn’t beat a team that is very good, Kansas City, even thought the Chiefs on Sunday were playing their first game without running back Kareem Hunt, cut for attacking a woman.

  Whether the Chiefs were affected by the incident, caught on videotape, or by the loss of Hunt, is uncertain. But for sure they have enough quality players, including young quarterback Patrick Mahomes, to overcome the situation—which is always the case of winning teams.    Maybe the Raiders, who were 2-9 entering the game and two touchdown underdogs, were courageous. Maybe the Raiders showed resilience after their own mistakes, fumbles and penalties, seemingly gave them no chance. Maybe head coach Jon Gruden said, “We are playing good football.”

  But this season at least they are not on the same level as Chiefs. In the end, despite the loud support from a Coliseum crowd listed at 55,255; despite one of Derek Carr’s better games (passing for 285 yards and three touchdowns) the Chiefs were, 40-33, winners.

    KC is 10-2, leading the AFC. It makes plays when needed, as opposed to the Raiders, who in this one made mistakes when they weren’t needed, losing three fumbles and early on being called for a holding penalty which negated a first down and forced a punt.

   “Three fumbles and a fourth and one conversion call,” said Gruden. “Against the Kansas City Chiefs that’s going to be tough to overcome.”

  No impossible to overcome, especially when you add a 22-yard first quarter punt by Johnny Townsend.

  Mahomes, who is having a brilliant season, and tight end Travis Kelce, hurt the Raiders. “Travis and Patrick (Mahomes) made some incredible plays. They must live together or something. Give credit to those guys. You can’t do anything sometimes but tip your cap.”

  Carr did something. With the Raiders in the hole from the start he helped them climb back.

    “And that brings the Raiders to within 10 points,” public address announcer Gary Williams shouted to the crowd after a Carr to Jared Cook touchdown pass made it 26-16 in the third period. Exciting but not fulfilling.

   Possibility evolved into disappointment.

  “Somebody said earlier,” Gruden offered, “we haven’t fumbled the ball all year. They (the Raiders) are making good runs. I think one was on first and 10, the other on second and two and another after a long run. Sometimes when you’re in traffic you have to put the ball away.”

   Gruden made a smart move in the closing minute, something those decades earlier John Madden did against the Steelers in a playoff—trailing by 10, kicking a field goal rather than trying for a touchdown and then a field goal. But the Raiders couldn’t come up with the ball on the onside kick with 28 seconds to play.

 “We had them backed up,” said Gruden, “and thought we could kick and cover. (Daniel) Carlson made a great onside kick. Maybe it didn’t go the exact 10 yards, but it was hell of a kick.”

  That quote sort of reflected the Raider performance. They didn’t go the full distance, but they played a hell of a game. Then again, the NFL gets down to wins and losses, and the Raiders in 2018 have far too many losses.

  The stats were decent, 442 net yards compared to 469 for KC. The result was not. Mahomes was one reason (23 of 38 for 295 yards and four TDs). The turnovers were another reason.

  “Mahomes made a third and 15 play that was right on my sideline,” said Gruden. “I was so outside of myself I was upset. He made so many plays today. I was proud of our quarterback too. It was a shootout of two great young quarterbacks.”

  The other, Carr, said, “There was no doubt we were going to win. But give credit to the Chiefs. They are really good.”

  And at this moment in time the Raiders are not.

10:14PM

Gruden on debates with QB: ‘We don’t have a ‘No Yelling’ sign on sideline

  ALAMEDA, Calif.—The coach and the quarterback had words. “I don’t have a ‘No yelling’ sign on the sideline,” said Jon Gruden. So he yelled at Derek Carr, and Derek Carr yelled back.

     “We get excited down there,” said the Raiders coach. In full view of the stands and television cameras.

 Great theater. “To be or not to be.” Not that kind of theater; not Shakespeare. More the Rockne kind. The Lombardi kind. Improv while the defense tries to improve.

  “What the hell is going on out here?” bellows Vince Lombardi on an old NFL Films segment,

  What was going on with the Oakland Raiders was an attempt Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals to win a game; it was successful, 23-21, on a last-second field goal.

   Some 24 hours after only his second victory in 10 games, Gruden, seated behind a desk at Raiders Central, was asked, “Is it a different Monday after a win?” His answer was personal and professional. “It’s been a tough year,” he said.

   A year of injuries. A year of on field mistakes. A year many of us decided was reflected in a coach and his QB jawing on the sideline, even if that’s common in the NFL, whether Bill Walsh with Joe Montana or Bill Belichick  with Tom Brady. 

   “I’m a big cheerleader sometimes,” Gruden explained. “I’m very positive a lot of the time. Every once in a while you have to make your points in some different ways. Sometimes raising your voice. I look ridiculous to some people, but I want urgency . . . I want to get things right.

  “I doesn’t mean I’m always right either. Derek pointed that out to me Sunday.”

   Football is a collaboration of calls, skills and fortunes. “Marshawn Lynch was here and running really well for us and then Marshawn went away,” was Gruden cut-to-the-chase phrasing of the injury that forced a change in the running game. “Doug Martin has been doing good things; Jalen Richard might be the MVP of our team.”

  Richard rushed 11 times for 61 yards and caught three passes for 32 yards. Carr completed 19 of 32 overall for 192 yards and two touchdowns. Whatever he and Gruden argued about may not have had much effect on the end result.

  “I think cameras can catch things that maybe look a little bit peculiar,” said Gruden, who, of course, before rejoining the Raiders this season was an analyst for ESPN for nine years.

   Peculiar could be the word for the Raiders’ season, for anyone who hesitates to use awful or disagreeable.

   Everything went south when Khalil Mack went east to the Chicago Bears. (What a game he had against the Vikings on Sunday night). There are numerous other reasons for going 2-8, mainly injuries to the offensive line, but the Mack trade seemed to trigger all misery.

   “These guys have played great,” said Gruden about a team he said has not come apart—which is a reflection of both players and coach.

“These guys played hard Sunday. I’m really proud of the effort. I know we’re not where we want to be, but the attitude and the effort and the camaraderie is a big part of establishing a program. For that I’m really proud.”

  The negative, as far as Oakland is concerned, is when the program is established the Raiders will be in Las Vegas.

  Gruden was asked what a lone victory can do for a team that, along with San Francisco and Arizona shares worst record in the NFL

    “We’ve had a lot of good practices,” said Gruden. “Guys have been putting forth a tremendous effort. They’ve been preparing hard. Winning is a great motivator. It’s a great cure. It builds momentum.

  “We’re missing a lot of players. Our injury list is unfortunate. Look at Drew Brees. I don’t know how many receivers have come and gone through New Orleans. Derek Carr has done well. That’s what every great quarterback has to do in this league.

   “Aaron Rodgers is going through it. Tom Brady has gone through it. That’s what comes with being a C.E.O.quarterback, and (Carr) has handled it extremely well. And that’s a credit to him.”

   As is handling the sideline disputes with Gruden.

7:49PM

Gruden on the Raiders: ‘I know it gets ugly at times’

   OAKLAND, Calif.—This wasn’t in the script for Jon Gruden. He was supposed to return to Oakland, and with his smile and style, make his team wow us on the field as he did for years in the ESPN booth.

  Did you hear or read anything negative when he took the head coaching job last winter?

  Things have not gone well at all. In fact they’ve gone terribly. The Raiders are 1-6 after their, 42-38, defeat by the Indianapolis Colts at the Coliseum on Sunday and nit-picking fills the room, which is understandable.

   Another TV broadcaster who also was a Raider coach John Madden, would tell us “Winning is a great deodorant.”  But when you don’t win the odor, real or imagined, is very prevalent.

   The smallest items grow enormously, in proportion to the losses.

 First there was trade before the season of arguably Oakland’s best player, defensive end Khalil Mack. Then last week, the Raiders saw off another star, Amari Cooper, the receiver.  After that the story, or rumor, quarterback Derek Carr had lost the respect of the team.

  If the Raiders were any good, that stuff would be trivial. But they’re not any good.  So the trivial becomes monumental, and the head coach and the quarterback become the focus. And controversial.

  “I don’t know where the controversy is coming from,” said Gruden, whose defense against the media was probably a bit more effective than his team’s against the Colts. Indy rolled up 461 yards, compared to Oakland’s 347.

  “The reality is we made a trade,” said Gruden alluding to the deal that sent Cooper, the receiver, to Dallas for a first-round draft pick. “I don’t think it hurt the offense, and I hope Amari Cooper does great. We need to address this roster, and we’re doing the best we can, but I’m not going to keep talking about the critics because we’ve got to get better in a lot of areas.”

  Indeed. Carr played maybe his best game of the year—was it in response to the knocks and questions?—but the defense, as almost every game, was a disaster.  The first quarter, the Colts got the ball and kept it and kept it, 14 minutes 4 seconds out of the total 15.

    “I know it gets ugly at times,” said Gruden, “but in a lot of ways I’m excited about the future.”

  It was George Allen coaching the Washington Redskins who insisted, “The future is now.” True, you need plan for the coming seasons, but with the Raiders moving to Las Vegas in two years it’s doubtful the fans in Oakland—and they awoke for a few loud sessions Sunday—are concerned with 2020 and beyond.

  To the Raiders credit, after trailing 10-0 almost instantly, they worked their way to a 28-21 third quarter lead. But there’s that problem with the defense, especially against a quarterback named Andrew Luck, the overall No. 1 pick, out of Stanford, in the 2011draft. He was 22 of 31 for 339 yards and three touchdowns.

  And there were those agonizing mistakes, rookie punter Johnny Townsend kicking one only 25 yards in the fourth quarter, with the score tied 28-28, and running back  Doug Martin, subbing for the injured Marshawn Lynch,  losing a fumble the first scrimmage play after the Colts went in front, 35-28.

  That’s what happens to bad teams and the reason they are bad teams.

  Carr, throwing for three touchdowns and sneaking a yard for a fourth, was asked if he had been particularly motivated because of the stories about him during the week.

  “No,” said Carr, “I’m the same every day. “I had to answer  some funny questions this week, but I know you guys have to do your jobs. It’s nothing personal. It I’m being honest, as a human, it’s hard.

 “There was nothing that was different in my mindset. I’m already a pretty fiery guy . . . My goodness, enough is enough. The best part of my day Wednesday, media day, was to get back on the field and play football. “

  He was back again Sunday, doing well enough, but the Raiders also were back losing again.

  “It’s tough,” said Jon Gruden.  Tougher than anyone believed it would be.

5:15PM

Gruden has a list of regrets, but not the one you might think

By Art Spander

ALAMEDA, Calif. — His regrets? “I’ve got a list of things,” Jon Gruden told us Tuesday. And, he suggested, so do the rest of us, because none of is perfect.

But the rest of us are not the head coach of an NFL team with a 1-5 record. The rest of do not have a multi-million-dollar contract as that coach has.

With rare exceptions — Bill Walsh leaving, George Seifert being elevated — winning teams do not change coaches. Gruden may have arrived in a swirl of fame and anticipation, but the head coach is only as good as his players.

And it has become obvious that many of the players on the Oakland Raiders are not very good. Especially on defense, where games are won — or, mostly, lost.

If, apropos of nothing but pertinent to everything, you choose to believe one of the reasons for the Raiders’ mess was the absurd trading of Khalil Mack, who not only was their best defensive player but arguably their best player, you are permitted that belief.

Does Gruden regret that transaction? Does Gruden regret returning to the Raiders after a departure some 20 years earlier? If anyone did chance to ask him either question, especially on leaving ESPN to rejoin the Raiders— and none of us has the temerity to do so at this juncture — he wouldn’t respond candidly. And who would blame him?

So instead, the questions deal with injuries (the Raiders have many, but so do other NFL teams). With Derek Carr’s quarterbacking. With opponents (did anyone doubt the Seattle Seahawks still have a solid team?). And with the bye the Raiders have this weekend.

Gruden still has that sly look we’ve come to know over the years, on the sideline, in the TV booth. He hasn’t become disagreeable as, say, Pat Shurmur of the New York Giants has.

In the better old days, the late 1990s and early 2000s, Gruden was known for his work ethic. He came to the office early (really early, as in 3:30 or 4 a.m.) and stayed late. Presumably he still keeps long hours — although at age 55 are they as long as they were at 35? — and he still keeps his enthusiasm.

He wanted this job. At least the job offer, with the huge salary, with the opportunity to follow his muse, was one he couldn’t refuse. What he didn’t want was a roster that seems to be spending days in the training room, a roster of older players being replaced by younger — if inexperienced — new ones.

That trip to and from London for a game at Wembley Stadium is one against jet lag as well as an opponent. Gruden on Sunday in the locker room said he enjoyed the journey. “Unfortunately,” he added, “I’ll always remember it in a bad way.”

There haven’t been too many good memories this return season. That game against the Seahawks wasn’t even entertaining, Oakland down 27-0 until mercifully kicking a field goal midway through the fourth quarter to lose, 27-3.

The London Daily Telegraph headline described the Raiders as “limp,” and the story promised that the next NFL game at Wembley, on Oct. 21 between the Tennessee Titans and San Diego Chargers, “looks likely to be more competitive.”

Hard to say if the Raiders next game, on Oct. 28 against the Indianapolis Colts at Oakland, will be, but it couldn’t be any worse than the most recent.

“We’re trying” said Gruden. “We’re working hard. I’m not going to never throw the ball on first-and-goal again. All my friends in the league do it. I don’t really think it’s living dangerously, either. When it’s intercepted and it’s ugly like it was, it’s going to be magnified.”

That was the previous week against the Chargers, in San Diego. He took a chance, but that’s what coaches are supposed to when they know down deep their team is not as good as the other one.

“You just have to continue to go with your gut feeling,” said Gruden. “Go with your preparation. Be true to your gut. That’s what I’m going to continue to do. There are going to be some mistakes, and I’ll take responsibility for all of them.”

Change is coming. “We’re still looking at the roster,” said Gruden. “We’re looking around the league to find means to get better. Reggie (McKenzie, the general manager) and I had a long meeting Monday. I know that’s a shock to some people. They don’t think we have any meetings. I’m telling you, we’re working hard to solidify this roster every day and improve ourselves and get the right people on the field ... We’re going to stay on the gas pedal and go as hard as we can.”

And hope the road doesn’t run into a mountain.